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Parochial Church Councils

30. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): What representations he has received regarding the level of quota set for each parochial church council [144809]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Church Commissioners have not received representations regarding the level of quota set for each parochial church council. It is for each diocese of the Church of England to determine quota levels, in consultation with its parishes.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer, but he will be aware that many parochial church councils are having difficulty meeting their quotas owing to declining congregations. That causes the diocese a problem because it has to pay the stipends of the clergy. In view of the fact that the St. Albans diocese recently could not pay its monthly outgoings from its income and had to resort to its capital, what is the Church Commission doing to cuts its costs centrally to help dioceses in such dire circumstances?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving prior notice of that question. I regret that the St. Albans diocese has had to dig into its capital to pay for its outgoings. As for the Church Commission, its total costs in 1999 were £10 million, compared with £9.6 million in 1998. Over the past few years, it has reduced its total costs by 30 per cent. I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing our best to reduce our costs, although I regret what happened in St. Albans.

Clergy Pensions

32. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): What steps are being taken to enhance pensions for the clergy. [144811]

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Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The Archbishops Council has in progress a review of the clergy remuneration package. This will include pensions. Consideration will be given to how stipends and pensions are to be funded as well as the levels at which they are set. Mr. Prentice: My hon. Friend mentioned the Archbishops Council, but women cannot become archbishops or bishops in the established Church. Given that the full pension entitlement goes only to those clergy who have served 37 years, that women priests are more likely to have a broken work record and that the pension scheme is non-contributory because of the low level of the stipend, is there not a case for giving additional pension contributions to women priests in recognition of this concrete--not glass--ceiling that keeps them where they are no matter how holy they might be?

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although I thought he might say, as he did to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, that my reply was immensely reassuring. However, he did not do that this time. I am sure that women priests will be happy to know that the Archbishops Council has started a review of the clergy's stipends and is consulting widely within the Church as part of that process. My hon. Friend's contribution will be fully taken into account.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The pensions of the clergy depend in some measure on the income that comes into the Church from its land and property holdings. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman undertake to discuss with the commission and with the people affected the property management of the tenanted estates in my constituency and elsewhere in London, where there is considerable dissatisfaction with the way in which they are managed and with the amount of money that is charged in return for work? Will he also discuss the carrying out of an audit on the amount of property that is held by the Church which is of great value? Instead of being sold to pay for the poor, it is being held to add to the wealth of the Church. That is against every principle that I can find in the Bible.

Mr. Bell: The hon. Gentleman should know that the costs of the clergy's pensions in respect of service before 1998 are met by the Church Commissioners and are underwritten by their assets. Pensions for service from 1998 onwards are met from a separate fund, to which the dioceses make contributions from the money raised by parishes. The contribution rate is subject to actuarial review every three years.

I am sure that the Church Commissioners will be interested in the hon. Gentleman's views on the wider question of Church property and how it should be used.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Has the hon. Gentleman assessed the impact of the withdrawal of the

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tax credit on dividends on the level of clergy pensions? Furthermore, what discussions has he had with the Church Commissioners about the circumstances in which clergymen are dismissed either on account of their parishioners' disapproval of their religious doctrine or on account of their personal behaviour? Has he discussed what impact that might have on their pension entitlements?

Mr. Bell: As we say in the law courts, that was two questions rather than one. However, I shall seek to answer both as best as I can. I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Pensions paid for by the Church of England through the commissioners ceased for service carried out after 1998. From that time forth, they have been a matter for the dioceses.

I am happy to take advice on the hon. Gentleman's wider question, and I shall reply in writing. If the answer is of sufficient interest, it may be placed in the Library.

Church Repairs

34. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What progress has been made towards reducing VAT on church repairs; and if he will make a statement. [144813]

{**/con Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): As the hon. Lady knows, we welcomed the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last November. I know that the Church of England VAT group seeks to work with those agencies and others who will seek to implement the proposed reduction in VAT. This involves negotiation with the European Commission and the necessary steps should already have been taken to ensure that this matter is rapidly put in hand. Miss McIntosh: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply and congratulate him on the support that he has lent to the campaign. Will he push it one stage further? Contrary to the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), in my view, no change in the law is required. We need to convince people that churches are indeed historic buildings and that it is more appropriate to reduce the VAT on repairs than to employ alternative methods of raising revenue, such as affixing mobile phone masts to church spires.

Mr. Bell: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, although it may be too close to a general election for me to congratulate her again on her role in the campaign. I agree with her assessment, and it may well be possible for the European Commission, through the European Union, to use derogation to achieve the reduction from 17.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. Hon. Members of all parties will work to achieve that outcome.

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Point of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had a request from the Ministry of Defence to make a statement about the circumstances in which six civilians were killed on Saturday by a UK/US missile strike in Iraq, near the town of Samarra about 75 miles from Baghdad, and the consequent destruction of a cattle feed centre? What on earth are we up to, destroying cattle feed centres? Ought not the Ministry of Defence to explain the circumstances?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order, but I have had no contact from the Department that he mentions.


Analysis of Costs and Benefits (NAFTA Membership)

Mr. Michael Fabricant presented a Bill to establish a Parliamentary Commission to investigate and report to Parliament on the costs and the benefits of membership by the United Kingdom of the North American Free Trade Agreement: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 20 July, and to be printed [Bill 32].

Exorcism of Children (Prohibition)

Mr. Harry Cohen, supported by Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Michael Clapham and Mr. Andrew Love presented a Bill to prohibit the practice of exorcism on young persons under the age of sixteen: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 9 March, and to be printed [Bill 33].

22 Jan 2001 : Column 654

Orders of the Day

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

[Relevant documents: The Second Report of the Health Committee, Session 1999-2000, on The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, HC 27-I, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 4905.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Government came to office with a commitment to ban tobacco advertising. We repeated that commitment in our tobacco White Paper "Smoking Kills" in December 1998. For almost four years, we have fought for this policy in the European Union, in the European courts and in the British courts. Today, we are honouring the commitments that we have made. The Bill will ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship in this country. It will do so to protect public health, to safeguard children and to reduce health inequalities.

Smoking kills 120,000 people in this country every year. Of 1,000 20-year-olds who smoke regularly, one will be murdered; six will die in road accidents; 250 will die in middle age from smoking; and 250 more will be killed in later life by smoking.

Smoking is the principal avoidable cause of early death in our country. It causes 85 per cent. of lung cancer deaths. It causes cancer of the mouth, the larynx, the oesophagus, the bladder, the kidneys, the stomach and the pancreas. It causes one in seven deaths from heart disease. It is one of the principal causes of the health gap between the richest and the poorest in our country.

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